Time is money, especially when it comes to whiskey. You can certainly drink spirits straight off the still, but they won’t have anywhere near the depth and complexity that comes from sticking that spirit in an oak barrel for a good period of time — the longer, the better. But every year that whiskey sits aging, the more expensive it gets for the distiller (and, eventually, for the consumer). Home bottle aging offers an opportunity to take a cheap whiskey and potentially make it great… but does it work?
Whiskey is aged for two very good reasons. The first reason is that the oak wood used to make barrels acts as a filter, removing some of the harsher elements of the whiskey and producing a smoother flavor profile. The second reason is that during that filtration process, the whiskey is constantly moving into and out of the oak, which imparts the whiskey some new flavors. It’s the same reason why wine and beer are aged in oak barrels, and usually you find some of the same caramel and vanilla notes imparted to the newly made spirit.
Typically, this process happens over the course of years with specially-made oak barrels and vast quantities of spirits. But there are a couple products on the market that claim to be able to have the same delicious impact on your whiskey in only a few days’ time.
This Oak Infusion Spiral is one of the more popular items on Amazon right now, claiming to be made from oak wood and charred to the #3 char level that you see in a number of bourbon manufacturers’ barrels. The spire is designed to fit into the mouth of a whiskey bottle, and the spiral design should theoretically provide the maximum possible surface area to interact with the whiskey and transfer that flavor. It’s a similar design to what we see with the Oak & Eden whiskey that we’ve (positively) reviewed before.
In testing home aging products, I use two different examples of whiskey.
Ranger Creek’s White Whiskey is the “control” example. As a white whiskey, this spirit is completely unaged: just raw spirits that have been pulled directly off the still and proofed down a bit. I love the bourbon that they make by aging this spirit so I have a good idea of where this can go, but the raw nature is almost a perfect blank canvas to see what flavors the wood spirals bring to the table.
Seeing the raw impact is good, but I also want an example of how the spiral could improve the flavor of an existing somewhat aged whiskey. For that purpose, I grabbed a bottle of Mellow Corn, which is a relatively young corn-based whiskey that I described as bland and boring in a previous review. It could certainly use a bit of punching up that I’m hoping these spirals provide.
I emptied one bottle of each whiskey into two Mason jars apiece, added a spiral to each jar, and left them to age. In one jar from each whiskey, I removed the spiral after a single day but with the second jar, left for a full week.
Results: White Whiskey Aging
I was honestly surprised at how quickly the color developed in this bottle. Within only 24 hours, the whiskey had gone from “clear as vodka” to the same pale straw color you’d usually expect in a scotch whisky. That color did develop a little further and get a bit darker as the week progressed, but after about 48 hours you were solidly into the “80/20 rule” (aka territory of diminishing returns).
|0 Days||1 Day||7 Days|
|Aroma||Citrus, honey, corn||Citrus, honey, corn, light vanilla||Citrus, honey, nutmeg|
|Flavors||Corn, citrus, rye||Corn, citrus, rye, light caramel and vanilla||Corn, caramel, citrus, light vanilla, rye|
In this case, there are some added flavors and complexity that make their way into the whiskey… but it just doesn’t have the same impact as aging in an actual barrel. Some of that raw corn flavor, which usually gets filtered out in the barrel, is still present. There is also a bit of bitterness as well.
The oak spiral absolutely does have an impact here, but the end result falls just shy of barrel-aged results. There’s a lot of added color and a bit of added flavor, but far less than you usually get from aging in an actual barrel.
If you’re intending to start from literal scratch with the white whiskey, I wouldn’t say this bottle aging product is worthwhile. Just buy the finished product.
Results: Mellow Corn Aging
With the already lightly-aged Mellow Corn, there was absolutely some development of the color, but things didn’t really progress after the first day like they had with the white whiskey version. The color stayed a slightly darker tone with perhaps only a slight shade of difference between the two jars (if you really squint at it).
|0 Days||1 Day||7 Days|
|Aroma||Caramel, vanilla, corn||Caramel toffee, vanilla, nutmeg||Caramel toffee, vanilla, nutmeg|
|Flavors||Caramel, vanilla||Rich caramel, vanilla||Rich caramel, vanilla, sweet|
Starting with this already lightly-aged spirit seems to have had a huge impact on the efficacy of the added oak spiral. There are more complex and rich flavors going on here with the added bottle aging, turning this bland corn whiskey into something almost close to a good bourbon.
I’m truly pleasantly surprised by the flavors in here and how it turned out. But what’s even more surprising is that the vast majority of that flavor was imparted so quickly, as the 24-hour aged version is not much different from the 7-day version. The only real difference I get with the added six says of aging is some extra sweetness and smoothness; if you have the extra days, go for it because it certainly doesn’t hurt — but if not, 1 day is decidedly sufficient.
Does this spiral work? Does it impart additional flavor and color into existing whiskey? Yes, yes it does.
That said, with this specific version of bottle aging accoutrement, the level of flavor imparted isn’t necessarily that impressive. Sure there’s a slight bit of improvement, especially in lightly aged whiskey where it makes things much better, but it’s something the average whiskey drinker probably won’t notice.
Overall Rating: 3/5
It certainly does the trick… but I’ve seen others do it better.